July 10, 2013

Appel on Wine: Great Muscadet, from mineral-rich Loire Valley, worth a search


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The wines, never fined or filtered, ferment on their lees (spent yeast cells) for eight to 10 months (and more than a year in the stunning Expression series, single-vineyard wines from average-40-year-old vines), well past the six that are required by law. (Lees contact, a technique first introduced in Muscadet, develops more texture and unusual flavor compounds in any wine.)

Such fine, structured Muscadets made this carefully are capable of significant aging, akin in Chartrand's estimation to Chablis. Especially with the Expression wines, I'm going to squirrel away a few bottles of the great 2011 vintage, just coming available now, for five years at least.

"Over time," Chartrand said, "the acidity softens, the nose gets less fruity, there's a bit more thickening on the palate." This transformation will happen gradually, and it's hard to think of an easier case of wine to buy than a mix of Domaine de L'Ecu Muscadets (distributed in Maine by Pine State) to cherish now, and follow through time.

I like the Cuvee Classique ($16), though it's more conventional in profile (crisp, briny) and so an ideal introduction. So, yes, oysters. But a distinct nuttiness and floral bouquet set it apart.

Better for oysters is the traditional-method sparkling wine, now called Bossard-Thuad Brut but which will soon change to "La Divina" ($19). Chardonnay, Cabernet and Pinot Noir are added to the Melon, along with the native Folle Blanche. As you'd expect, it's not a creamy wine: the mousse is prickly-foam rather than silken. The flavors are predominantly smoke, hay, dry toast. It's a crazy price for a vibrant wine that compares favorably to much NV Champagne.

The real action for me is in the Expression series, of which two are available in Maine: the Gneiss ($18) and Granite ($19). Though they are both supple and flow in a manner that seems unique to minimally treated wines, the former is the softer of the two, with light touches of vanilla and wax woven through the lemon notes. The Granite is heartier. The citrus flavors are orange rather than yellow, and spices come in ginger, cumin and coriander.

They are both truly like Chablis, though with less bone density, more ethereal. You think you've grasped it, then it slips away. What is that? Brown sugar? Underripe pineapple? Seeds? Hard to know. The fruit is just so complex, almost crunchy and juicy simultaneously, but difficult to place terms and analogues on. This is what great Muscadet teaches -- nothing in the end belongs to anything else. That there are no cognates.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog is soulofwine.com, and he can be reached at soulofwine.appel@gmail.com


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